December 2, 2003, 12:00 AM

Flowers, Gifts and Jewelry:Taking the anxiety out of gift giving

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This time, it`s personal

Give a gift and chances are you’ll bring a smile to the recipient’s face — personalize it, and you’ll get a bigger smile. “That’s what our customers tell us,” says Geoff Smith, president of e-commerce and new business development at “The fact that you’ve gone that extra step to personalizing the gift makes people feel really special.”

It’s a sentiment that drives sales at Personal Creations, which sells—and will personalize with names, messages and photos of the giver’s choice—a broad range of toys, collectibles, apparel and home accessories at prices set to entice even frequent gift buyers. Smith notes that while the average gift sells for under $25, options for personalized gifts range from $9 to $150. The company launched as a catalog in 1989, and it supplies personalized gifts to other companies including Toys R Us Inc. But the e-commerce b2c arm is its fastest growing segment, and web sales now represent 52% of sales.

The web site, launched in 1996, has brought extra efficiency to operations. The product makes perfect use of the medium of the web because it requires shoppers to type in the name to be personalized or the message added to the gift themselves when they place their order online, Smith says. That reduces the possibility of errors, for though the call center reps are well trained in taking customer information, there is more than one way to spell many names.

While customers can also contact the call center to walk through their gift needs and place an order, the web site does an admirable job of guiding the online shopper through the options with a clean, uncluttered interface and site search process that mirrors how the buyers of personalized gifts shop for products. A left-hand list of text links lets shoppers search by specific occasions or by gift recipient. Subcategories under the links then let shoppers see a selection of gifts for a particular occasion according to recipient, or gifts for a recipient on a particular occasion. Sizeable thumbnails in each set of search results quickly pull up even larger views providing considerable product detail. doesn’t just use the web to transact sales; it harnesses its real-time customer data to re-merchandise on the fly. When a wedding album on the home page failed to attract the expected customer attention, for example, Smith put another product, already doing well on a page deeper in the site, in its place. “My colleagues in the catalog business have to wait and hope,” says Smith, “but on the web site, we can react right away.”
Unique Visitors (monthly)
Sales (annual)
Site Design
Affiliate Management
Order Management
Web Analytics
Payment Processor
Content Management
E-Mail Management
Vertical Response
Site Search
Microsoft Commerce Server 2002
Search Engine Management
*As reported by comScore Networks Inc.

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Lighting the way to customization

One of the great promises of online retailing is the vaunted “market of one.” With the right technology, the thinking goes, retailers can create products that appeal to the individual. While many sites have tried to create that market, few have succeeded. One that has is

Yankee Candle is starting simply, with a custom candle feature. But by aggregating demand at the web site and offering a quick and easy way to create a personalized candle, Yankee Candle creates an experience that shoppers can’t easily have in other channels. “This is one of the best custom applications I’ve seen online,” says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president of consultants Retail Forward Inc. “They are using the Internet in a way the Internet was designed to be used.”

Using Macromedia Inc.’s Flash platform, Yankee Candle allows customers to try out different configurations of candles and alter components without having to start over. Yankee Candle stressed with designer Molecular Inc. it wanted the feature to be easy to use, says Dennis Shockro, vice president of information systems. “The key thing at our site is usability,” he says. “We tested the design with people internally and externally.”

Not only has the feature resulted in increased custom-candle sales, it also has decreased customer service calls from 90% of custom candle buyers who used the previous static system to 25% today, allowing Yankee Candle to re-deploy staff and eliminate backlogs of phone calls and spillovers to backup call centers.

The emphasis on usability also had other effects. For instance, made its shopping cart easier to use and displays cart contents at all times a customer is on the site. The result was a sale completion rate that jumped from 58% of all shopping carts to 75%, Shockro says. Preliminary performance tests also show delivers 100% uptime and transaction times in the top 10 of retail sites, Shockro says. The result: sales are up 27% from’s redesign in May to now versus virtually no growth in the prior year.

Whitfield notes that Yankee Candle has also done an excellent job of site organization. “They have thought of all the ways consumers approach the category and designed the site around that,” she says. “If you use candles for decorating you can sort by color. If you want scents, you can sort by fragrance.”

With steady growth and improvements on the web, Yankee Candle is focusing on creating the same shopping experience across channels. “If the product is not in the store but you can send customers to where it is available, whether that’s the web site or the catalog, they’ll keep coming back,” Shockro says. m

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